Andrea Leadsom is emerging as the Brexit-supporters’ Conservative leadership candidate of choice, following the apparent betrayal of Boris Johnson by Justice Minister Michael Gove.
Leadsom has risen to second favourite according to the bookies odds, currently priced at 5/2 and shortening, behind Theresa May, the 1/3 favourite. Gove slides to third place at 12/1, followed by Steven Crabb at 33/1, while Dr Liam Fox is the outsider at 66/1.
The rise of Leadsom is believed to be down to her competence during the referendum campaign, during which she took a lead role on the Leave campaign, holding her own during the televised debates alongside former favourite Boris Johnson, coupled with the reaction within the party to the manner of Michael Gove’s announcement of his leadership bid.
Mr Gove has maintained that he had no ambition to be prime minister, a claim he repeated at least three times during the referendum campaign period alone, telling reporters that he did not have “that exceptional level of ability required to do the job,” and that there were others “far better equipped” to take on the role.
Nonetheless, he announced his leadership bid on Friday at almost the eleventh hour, putting paid to Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign even before the official starting gun was fired.
The Telegraph reports a senior party source as saying that local chairmen are “incensed” at Mr Gove and will not support him for the leadership.
Similarly, Isabel Hardman of The Spectator has reported: “Many senior figures believe that the way [Gove] has turned on Boris Johnson is beyond the pale, and are preparing to back Andrea Leadsom, while I understand that a group of former Boris backers are considering declaring their support as a block for Leadsom on Monday too.”
Some senior figures in the party have already come out in support of her candidacy. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has announced that he is backing Mrs Leadsom because she is the best person to “create the UK’s new relationship with the rest of the world”.
Mr Duncan Smith, whose words will carry weight with Leave supporters as he was one of the original five Cabinet ministers to back the Leave campaign, said last night: “[Mrs Leadsom] has warmth, a genuinely human touch and a great sense of humour. And her enormous depth of business experience speaks volumes for her ability to handle pressure.”
Pointing to her 25 years’ worth of experience in the financial sector, he added: “I believe that Andrea’s strong family background, business experience, compassion, commitment to social justice and dedication will make her a great Prime Minister for the UK.”
Delighted to say I’m running for the @Conservatives Leadership.
Let’s make the most of the Brexit opportunities!#FreshStart
— Andrea Leadsom MP (@andrealeadsom) June 30, 2016
Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitution Committee and a Vote Leave board member has also backed Mrs Leadsom, describing her as “a phenomenon” who “has all the credentials to lead Britain”.
“What we need is a fresh start leader to be Prime Minister,” he said. “Andrea knows more about the EU than 95 per cent of MPs. The work she did as a new MP was fantastic and she has an amazing grasp of detail.”
The biggest question mark hanging over Mrs Leadsom’s candidacy is her lack of experience at ministerial level – she has never held a cabinet position. However, this too may ultimately work in her favour as there are reports that she was held back from being awarded such a position by none other than the almost universally loathed George Osborne, following a criticism she made of him in 2012.
It is clear that Mrs Leadsom sees her only female rival for the job, Theresa May, as the main opposition. Appearing on ‘Good Morning Britain’, Mrs Leadsom said she believed that May was “totally up to the job” of Prime Minister, but added: “My own view is that it needs a Leave candidate.
“I genuinely believe that it needs somebody who understands Europe, which I do, and clearly it’s a huge advantage that I have 25 years of financial services experience before coming into Parliament so I do understand economics and the way the country works.
“Getting a grip and taking that [Brexit] forward is the job of the next Prime Minister.”